The New York chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) is suing the town of Greenburgh for $10 million, alleging the town pressured the chapter into selling the Revolutionary-era Odell House in Hartsdale.
The lawsuit claims that town officials induced the New York chapter to sell the site to the town by removing the chapter’s nonprofit property tax exemption, knowing the chapter was unable to repair and maintain the house, which is located at 425 Ridge Road.
Wayne D. Esannason, the former village attorney for Scarsdale, filed the lawsuit in Westchester County Supreme Court on March 3, naming the town of Greenburgh, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and Town Assessor Edye McCarthy as defendants.
During a ceremony at the house on July 10, 2019, Feiner and Robert Stackpole of White Plains, president of the New York chapter since 2008, signed an agreement to sell the site to the town for $1. The sale was approved by the New York Supreme Court and the New York State attorney general in December 2019. The closing took place on March 4, 2020.
The Odell House was the 1781 headquarters of Comte de Rochambeau, the commander of the French forces allied with the Continental Army, which was commanded by Gen. George Washington and camped in Ardsley. The oldest part of the house was built in 1732.
Elizabeth Odell deeded the house to the New York chapter of SAR in 1965, under the condition that it be maintained as a historic site. The structure deteriorated in recent years.
In December 2018, while the site was still owned by the New York chapter, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation turned down an application by the town and the chapter for a $700,000 grant. In December 2019, after the agreement to sell the site to the town, the town was awarded a $600,000 matching grant from the state to restore the house.
Currently, Abbott & Price, a construction company based in Millwood, is stabilizing the house, which will be turned into a museum.
The lawsuit states that the chapter’s application to continue its nonprofit property tax exemption was denied by the town in 2018, then reinstated, then denied again in 2019, then reinstated again, and that Stackpole learned about the second reinstatement on the date of the closing.
Regarding that sequence of events, McCarthy said the exemption was restored in 2018 based on a discussion she had with Stackpole about his plan for the house.
“Mr. Stackpole’s intent was presented in a manner by which I felt, under the Real Property Tax Law, the exemption could be extended an additional year,” she said. “In 2019, when no progress had been made on the site, and admittedly, by Mr. Stackpole, there was no change from the previous year, the exemption was removed.”
Regarding the timing of the lawsuit, Stackpole said, “We filed everything that was necessary with the town over the last two or three years … In terms of the chronology … it was the fact that we were gathering enough information and we thought it was time to serve the town of Greenburgh. It will come out when we go to trial. This is going to be a long-term issue as we go through the process.”
“I feel that it’s ridiculous,” Feiner said, in response to the lawsuit. “At the first press conference he [Stackpole] said he wanted to work with the town. We didn’t force him. He didn’t have the funds; the place was falling apart.”
“I’m really disappointed,” Feiner also said, “because … when we reached out to him in the beginning, he was very enthusiastic; I never had an adversarial relationship with him. Even if he got the house back, he wouldn’t have the funds to do anything with it. The place was in danger of collapsing. If he was serious about it, he should have spoken out a few years ago. I think he should be thrilled.”